Coyotes top 20 prospects

By Jeff Dahlia

After the 2006 Entry Draft, prospects acquired in the Michael Barnett era (begun in 2001) have taken over control of the Phoenix Coyotes prospect pool. Eighteen out of 20 players on the list are connected to Barnett either via drafting, trade or free agent signing.

Top 20 at a glance

1. Peter Mueller
2. Enver Lisin
3. David LeNeveu
4. Matt Jones
5. Keith Yandle
6. Martin Hanzal
7. Blake Wheeler
8. Kevin Porter
9. Chris Summers
10. Olivier Latendresse
11. Daniel Winnik
12. Logan Stephenson
13. Dmitri Pestunov
14. Bill Thomas
15. Pier-Oliver Pelletier
16. Joel Perrault
17. Sean Sullivan
18. Matthew Spiller
19. Chad Kolarik
20. Randall Gelech

Key: Current Rank (Previous Rank), Name, Position
How Acquired, Age, Height, Weight

1. (NR) Peter Mueller, C
1st Round, 8th – 2006, 18, 6’2, 205

Peter Mueller easily takes over the Coyotes top prospect spot. His resume is already long and impressive for such a young man. He’s played for the U.S. NTDP team, starred for the U.S. U-18 gold squads and was named the WHL’s rookie of the year for the 2005-06 season while skating for the Everett Silvertips. He has the potential to make a big impact once he hits the Coyotes roster.

Don’t be fooled by those soft eyes and that picture perfect smile. While it appears he plays ‘soft,’ it’s really an unjust term to explain the Bloomington, Minnesota native’s game. Because of his fine understanding of the game, his ability to be effective with and without the puck, a keen sense of when to apply pressure, and a low panic threshold make Mueller a legitimate contender and worthy of the top billing.

As Mueller continues to grow and develop under Kevin Constantine for another season with the Silvertips, expect him to rise as one of the WHL’s top players. He isn’t that far off from the NHL, but he still needs time to grow into his body and learn to harness his full potential, something Constantine will surely try to encourage this year.

2. (3) Enver Lisin, RW
2nd Round, 50th – 2004, 20, 6’1, 185

Little is left for Enver Lisin back home in Russia now that Ak Bars Kazan won the league crown last season. He has done everything within his power to develop and improve since being selected by the Coyotes two years ago. With Ak Bars, he’s managed to secure a roster spot on teams loaded with talent and depth. He has matured and improved his game consistently as shown in his ability to earn ice time on a packed roster. However, don’t read too much into his numbers over the last two seasons as he wasn’t playing top-end minutes.

Lisin signed this summer with the Coyotes and is expected to start skating with the club as early as October. This year of adjustment will be his biggest test. He has the game-breaking skill, speed and quality and is by far the most game-ready prospect out of the Coyotes 2004 class. One thing holds true for Lisin though, he ranks high because if he embraces the North American game, the Coyotes could have a surefire superstar on their hands.

3. (2) David LeNeveu, G
2nd Round, 46th – 2002, 23, 6’1, 170

The talk over the last few years has had David LeNeveu eventually becoming the goalie of the future. However, the franchise still has interest in the aging Curtis Joseph, they signed Mike Morrison and the re-signed Philippe Sauve in the offseason. Then you pencil in the two goalies selected over the past two drafts (Pier-Olivier Pelletier and Brett Bennett) as well as the rookie free agent signing of Josh Tordjman. All the acquisitions make you start to wonder what truly is and truly isn’t certain between the pipes for the Coyotes in the near future.

Only re-upping with LeNeveu for a year may also say a lot about the club’s faith in the young netminder. There isn’t a question of whether LeNeveu has to the potential and ability, but rather can he live up to the hefty demands of the NHL on a consistent basis. While this probably should be his season to move up and challenge for the starting role with the Coyotes, chances are he’ll be the main man back in San Antonio again. The only difference this time around is that LeNeveu should have a team that is capable of playing well above .500 and even being a legitimate playoff contender.

What changes now is that LeNeveu must step up, show some strong leadership capabilities and prove to the Coyotes brass he deserves the starting role in Phoenix and a longer contract extension.

4. (4) Matt Jones, D
3rd Round, 80th – 2002, 23, 6’1, 210

Matt Jones remains the Coyotes top defensive prospect. He could have played up with the club last season, however, management and the coaching staff did not want to put him in the No. 6 or 7 role. They insisted that Jones get top minutes last season, which meant him spending the majority of his time patrolling the blueline in the AHL with San Antonio. He earned his call-ups and saw action in 16 games for Phoenix.

Though a little on the small side, or shall we say compact, Jones does not let his size inhibit his play at all. He is in terrific shape and is able to play top minutes at an increased pace. He’s a punishing defenseman who understands the game and is always pushing the edge. He is an ideal defenseman with top 4 potential in the new mobile NHL.

The Coyotes loaded up with defensemen this offseason, which may put Jones back another year, but it’s not all bad. Going into the second year of his three-year contract, Jones has the chance to mold with a strong core group of up-and-coming talent that is slotted for San Antonio next season. Jones is a true leader and great example for younger prospects.

5. (9) Keith Yandle, D
4th Round, 105th – 2005, 19, 6’2, 205

Keith Yandle’s stock has skyrocketed over the last season, in large part to his stellar performance with the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL. He was the best offensive-defenseman the league had to offer last year and his numbers and accolades backed that up. He was named both QMJHL and CHL Defenseman of the Year. His success shouldn’t be a surprise because Yandle came off an all-star career at the Cushing Academy prior to his lone year in junior. Not only was he the top rearguard in the Q, but he also grew tremendously under the tutelage of now New York Islanders head coach Ted Nolan.

But that’s only half of the story. Yandle didn’t make himself eligible during his draft year, which scared off teams when they had a shot at him during the 2005 draft. Obviously, the move hurt his positioning for the following year. There was also a lot of talk about his character, all of which factored into the decision-making process to use a pick on him, but there was never a doubt about his on-ice ability. The Coyotes took a shot at the New Englander and it seems to have paid off. If he continues to grow on the ice and mature, the Coyotes could have a steal out of the 2005 draft.

Yandle projects as a solid two-way defenseman. His path is bright and potential is big.

6. (6) Martin Hanzal, C
1st Round, 17th – 2005, 19, 6’4, 198

After a year filled with uncertainty, Martin Hanzal didn’t do too badly once he got on American soil. Even though the majority of the 2005-06 season was a wash for the Czech centerman, he was able to get a taste of the North American game while spending 19 games with the Omaha Lancers in the USHL. The organization, led by head coach and general manager Mike Hastings, gave Hanzal every opportunity to succeed in the league and he responded immediately. He was good for a point a game average and constantly found ways to contribute in the little time he was with the team, as good players do.

Hanzal is a very creative player who can skate and who will be the big catalyst the Coyotes will need up front for the future. He’s a very hungry player who wants to excel and who continues to show that he’s making the right moves on the ice and in the weight room to prepare himself for a bright future in the NHL. Hanzal is headed up north to play for Brent Sutter’s Red Deer Rebels in 2006-07. If all goes as planned and Hanzal excels, he will probably be a lock to the jump to the NHL the following season.

7. (5) Blake Wheeler, RW
1st Round, 5th – 2004, 19, 6’3, 185

Blake Wheeler continued to improve and grow at the University of Minnesota for the 2005-06 season. Being his third team in as many years, Wheeler’s numbers weren’t off the chart, but his overall game has picked up tremendously. He was selected to Team USA for the 2006 WJC held in Vancouver, B.C.

A lot will change for Wheeler and the Gophers this season as key forwards from last year’s squad left for NHL clubs. He should be ready to step into a consistent top six role for the team and take an increased level of responsibility as a sophomore. There will be a lot of attention on the Plymouth, Minnesota native’s ability to adapt and produce because some young hungry talent was added in the offseason.

Not necessarily a make it or break it year for Wheeler, he needs to have a spike in production to start to shake the doubt that continues to follow him since draft day. He needs to start taking over games against the talent he’s lining up with and be an equal quality player.

8. (10) Kevin Porter, C
4th Round, 119th – 2004, 20, 5’11, 194

Kevin Porter has quietly worked his way up the charts because he’s not a flashy player but an evenly good producer. He is, however, the closest thing to a complete player on the Coyotes top 20 list. A proven product of the U.S. NTDP, he has spent the past two years playing for the University of Michigan, where he continues to grow. Porter has become a solid player who has a well-balanced approach and seems to be a destined leader. He is consistent in scoring, strong in his own end and he can skate.

Porter’s experience also extends into the international forum, as he has also been a distinguished member of U.S. national teams for the last three years. Most recently, he captained Team USA at the 2006 WJC to a fourth-place finish.

As he gets ready for his junior campaign, expect Porter to be a more take-charge player for the Wolverines. He spent the majority of the 2005-06 season on the team’s top scoring line and is expected to be back there again. If all goes well for the Michigan native, he’ll no longer be one of the team’s unsung heroes because he’ll have everyone’s attention.

9. (NR) Chris Summers, D
1st Round, 29th – 2006, 18, 6’1, 180

Chris Summers was the Coyotes second first round selection from the 2006 draft. A recent graduate of the U.S. NTDP, the multitalented defenseman has honed his skills and has dazzled many with his effortless skating ability, his dogged play, and his ability to read situations quickly and react accordingly.

Summers is more likely to be projected as a stifling stay-at-home defenseman, but with his ability to skate and read the game as well as he does, he could possibly start to slide into the mold of a Scott Niedermayer type of defenseman.

He’ll have every opportunity to continue to grow and develop as he begins to college career with the University of Michigan this fall. With enough time and patience, he could prove management right on pulling the trigger to move up and get him earlier on in the 2006 draft.

10. (13) Olivier Latendresse, C
Signed as Free Agent – 2004, 20, 5’10, 190

Having a beat on what the NHL’s future would be all about, the Coyotes were wise enough to go out and sign Olivier Latendresse well before the lockout and ensuing change in play. He has grown into his own over the past few years, and last season it showed when Latendresse went on to have a breakout year with Val d’Or in the QMJHL.

Known as the ‘little warrior’ back in the ‘Q’, Latendresse is another strong two-way player who plays a very balanced game. He is very strong on the puck, plays well on the backcheck and has an extremely strong competitive drive, which has fueled his success over the past few years.

Latendresse will probably start his pro career in San Antonio this season and could be the early front-runner for the team’s top playmaker. He’s got the heart, determination and mind for it.

11. (11) Daniel Winnik, C
9th Round, 265th – 2004, 21, 6’2, 210

After finishing up a 2004-05 season with a breakout performance at the University of Hew Hampshire, Daniel Winnik turned in an even stronger showing this past year with the Wildcats. The Coyotes persuaded the junior to forego his final year with the Wildcats and turn pro.

During his time in college, he turned himself into one of the most dominant forwards in all of Hockey East. He is becoming a great positional player who uses his size and skating ability to make things happen. He works well down in corners, however, he becomes very effective when he can get in close and begin to dominate the slot area. If his game continues to grow, Winnik will be an excellent fit in San Antonio as he begins his pro career.

12. (7) Logan Stephenson, D
2nd Round, 35th – 2004, 20, 6’2, 185

Logan Stephenson finished out his junior career with a solid 2005-06 season with the Tri-City Americans in the WHL. He stepped up into the lead role as a defender for head coach Don Nachbaur and had a career year on all fronts. His offensive production picked up as a result, but don’t expect that as a pro. His size, skating ability and aggressive style of game all translate to a defensive defenseman. He’s actually embraced that role for the majority of the his junior career, but last year the Ams ran a little short on offensive defenseman and he chipped in when and where he was needed.

He’s a bit under weight heading into his first pro season, but that shouldn’t affect the way he approaches the game. When he’s on his game, he’ll be one the clubs feistiest shutdown defenders, probably only second to Matt Jones. He still needs to work a bit on his skating and patience, but other than that, he should have a pretty solid first season as a pro. He’s about two years off from seeing an NHL roster on a consistent basis, so expect his development to continue with San Antonio for the time being.

13. (12) Dmitri Pestunov, C
3rd Round, 80th – 2003, 21, 5’9, 196

Dmitri Pestunov turned in a promising 2005-06 season on a loaded Magnitogorsk Metallurg team until he went down with a fractured collarbone late in the year. He’s a speedy centerman, who is a playmaker with great hands. He reads the game very well and can play with better talent. Though small at 5’9, his height doesn’t inhibit his play.

Pestunov is slotted to skate with the Coyotes this September for their Rookie Tournament team, but given the recent unexpected departure of Evgeni Malkin (PIT), Metallurg maybe a little reluctant to let any more of their players come to North America without a transfer agreement in place. Pestunov isn’t the same caliber player Malkin is, but he’s a very talented young player who Magnitogorsk may not be willing to part with just yet.

14. (NR) Bill Thomas, RW
Signed as Free Agent – 2006, 23, 6’1, 185

Bill Thomas traded in his University of Nebraska-Omaha sweater at the end of the 2005-06 season for an NHL entry-level contract and an opportunity to skate with the Coyotes as they closed out their season. While nine games were too short of a span to tell just what Thomas’ future holds, it’s still a lot more promising than a few months ago.

Thomas has made his way through the USHL, as an all-star with the Tri-City Storm, then and into the college ranks with UNO, where he progressed into a solid offensive talent. He’s a gifted player with a lot of natural abilities and who has a good read on the game.

He’ll definitely get a crack at the Coyotes NHL roster come this summer, but the safe bet has him starting in San Antonio, making the full adjustment to the pro game with no real rush.

15. (19) Pier-Olivier Pelletier, G
2nd Round, 59th – 2005, 19, 6’1, 175

Pier-Olivier Pelletier missed the majority of the 2005-06 season with a torn labrum and just got back on the ice last month at the Coyotes first ever prospect conditioning camp. He was hoping to get a shot at making Team Canada’s 2007 WJC team this year but there’s a plethora of talent waiting in the wings and still recovering, he didn’t earn an invite to the summer camp. After what should be a solid summer of conditioning and rehabilitation, Pelletier should be ready to go for the Drummondville Voltiguers.

He’s got good size and still has a lot of potential; he just needs to shake the rust off. He fared decently at the camp, but there wasn’t enough to grade him on and to understand just how flexible he is. The Voltiguers did well last season, but if Pelletier excels, he has the mettle to take help Drummondville a legitimate contender because they’ll have some firepower up front.

16. (NR) Joel Perrault, C
Trade with Anaheim -2006, 23, 6’2, 202

Joel Perrault came to the Coyotes when they traded away Sean O’Donnell to Anaheim last year at the trade deadline. Having worked through two concussions over the year, Perrault was on his way to returning to form with the Ducks in the minors when Phoenix showed interest in him and pulled the deal to acquire him.

Tall, a little on the thin side but durable, Perrault is a feisty player who’s versatile in the offensive zone. He works very hard on the forecheck and has a proven history of being able to score. He’s decent in his own end and will do what it takes to gain possession. The former fifth rounder is a hard worker and a good character guy to have in the mix.

The Coyotes hold out some hope that Perrault will start to blossom into a very competent centerman who’ll help produce big numbers. He’ll more than likely have to use San Antonio for his proving grounds before he gets a call-up.

17. (18) Sean Sullivan, D
9th Round, 272nd – 2003, 22, 6’0, 190

There are a couple things that haven’t changed for Sean Sullivan. The most important facts to remember this season are that he’s heading into his senior year at Boston University as of one the top defensemen in all of Hockey East, and he’s going to captain the Terriers.

Sullivan’s game has developed year after year and he has really turned into one of the most respected and feared defensemen in the New England area college hockey circuit. He’s a classic stay-at-home defender who knows his role and plays it extremely well. He took on some more responsibility last season, seeing more time in the mix with the offense as well as running the power play, but his bread and butter is protecting his own zone.

Not only is the captain’s ‘C’ fitting, but Sullivan will wear it with pride. He’s another prospect who you’ll find to be an unsung hero for his current team and who will add a lot to the Coyotes organization down the road.

18. (8) Matthew Spiller, D
2nd Round, 31st – 2001, 23, 6’5, 210

Matthew Spiller took the biggest hit this go-around, almost sliding right off the list. With a cache of young, strong, mobile rearguards, Spiller is starting to look like the odd man out. He’s really not a bad player either, it’s just his game and style of play is a suited for the old NHL. He’s a decent skater, but he plainly doesn’t have the mobility an NHL squad needs these days. He’s been trying to make the adjustments, but he plainly hasn’t gone the distance.

Spiller is on a new one-year, two-way contract with the Coyotes. Realistically, he’s a long shot to make it and stick with the club, and he’ll start off in San Antonio. It looks as if time is running for the former 2001 second rounder.

19. (NR) Chad Kolarik, C
7th Round, 199th – 2004, 20, 5’10, 185

Chad Kolarik has made some steady progress over the last two seasons while playing at the University of Michigan. He can score the points, but a matter if he can build the mental toughness and do it on a consistent basis remains to be seen. He was extremely hot and cold his freshman year but still managed to put up respectable numbers. Last year, he tripped out of the gates and it took him a while to find his rhythm.

The former U.S. NTDP can be a very dangerous offensive threat when he gets going. He is a good skater and can use his quickness in one-on-one situations. When his confidence is up, he can be a one-man wrecking crew, but when he’s off, he tends to be out of site, out of mind. He plays with an edge and won’t shy away from the physical play. He’s has made strides in protecting his own zone, but there is still some room for improvement.

He’s getting ready for his junior season in Ann Arbor, one that could likely be a breakout year for him.

20. (16) Randall Gelech, LW
7th Round, 208th – 2003, 22, 6’1, 195

Randall Gelech has a strong character make-up and is by far has one of the hardest workers for the Coyotes’ AHL affiliates over the past two seasons. He’s a gritty two-way forward who plays an honest game and does all the little things night-in and night-out. He’s got decent speed; he’s a stronger skater and can protect the puck very well. He works both zones very well and never gives up.

Gelech has endured two back-to-back long, losing seasons in the ‘A’ for the franchise, but once he starts moving in the right direction, expect him to elevate his game even further. His heart, his soul and his determination keep him on the list, but younger, skilled prospects are starting to take over the system. If he holds true to form, he’ll find a way to move back up the charts and he’ll find a way to make a bigger difference.

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